Philip Julian or Cheapmachines gets inside his cheap machine
to get a collection of luxurious sounds which are then
beautifully arranged for your expensive and qualitative
Working concretely with the sound material of his computer,
Julian throws you deep inside the object that you might
spend most time with. You touch it, you carry it, you write
to it, you might even talk to it, but do you love it?
In fact, it is very likely that you might be hearing this
piece from a computer that makes similar sounds. You might
be working while listening to this but if you pay close
attention to this piece, you seriously get the feeling that
you are navigating inside your computer, and strangely enough
it's not so hectic down here. It's actually nice and quiet
especially now that the fan of my computer has stopped
while I am typing and listening to “Low Activity Computer
There is a different sense of time going on; why do
I have to try to make things with my computer in
the fastest way possible?
Why do I need to squeeze as much activity out of this
Why do I need a faster processor? Why can't I just enjoy the
way it looks, the way it sounds, the craftiness of the
engineers, designers and workers who assembled this
computer in China? Why do I have to use the computer to
communicate with the rest of the world instead of having a
dialogue with the machine itself? “Low Activity Computer
Solo” is a masterpiece for all computer fetishists around
Hardware: IBM Thinkpad T40
O/S: Debian GNU/Linux (4.0r3 “Etch”), pure:dyne (v2.3.6)
Software: Pure Data, Jackd/Qjackctl, Jack Rack, Jamin, Time Machine, Audacity, Flac, OpenOffice
The piece was recorded by using a telephone induction coil plugged directly into the computer in order to pick up the electromagnetic activity present within the machine, and a piezo contact microphone to record elements of it's external surfaces. I have tried this technique on a number of different computers and seemingly each has it's own personal characteristics much like any other musical instrument. Some machines barely respond to the contact microphones/pick-up coil, others seem to be a complete hive of electrical activity at all times.
The raw sounds here then are “ready-made” or “found” in that they are present at all times and occurring with little or no influence from the user. Switching certain functions on and off or manipulating the trackpad or CD loading mechanism for example will cause responses from the machine, but it is how the machine is designed internally and constructed that has the greatest influence on the sounds it is capable of producing. In no small part, credit for this piece should therefore go to the machines designers in New York and the people on the assembly line in the IBM factory in China where the computer was built.
The purpose of the piece was to go some way toward addressing the following:
A way to use the computer as an object or instrument in it's own right, rather than a container for pre-recorded sounds or a simple process calculator. The traditional model of using a mouse, trackpad or other controller in order to “play” a software routine or algorithm can create too much distance or a disconnection between the technology/instrument and performer/user.
A way to slow down. There is a tendency in contemporary computer music to rely too heavily on a rapid succession of events played out at high volume, so much so that this way of playing could now be considered a cliché. The sounds in the piece are therefore “framed” within periods of digital silence; a pause to allow each sound to be heard in isolation and in it's entirety, rather than each sound forming part of a mesh of ever-evolving sounds.
A way to work differently. Operating with the GNU/Linux framework on a practical level allows for far greater interconnection between the various software packages. Everything potentially connects to everything else. Everything can be customised to suit the users specific requirements. There is a constantly expanding community of programmers and users, all very much with an open mind to what can be achieved. If you have a question or suggestion as to how something works, or how something could be made better, it is open for discussion and potential inclusion.
April 1, 2010 Subject:
Reviews Philip Julian - Low Activity Computer Solo Neural Magazine
Recorded in London and Berlin between September and November 2008, this work uses the induction coil of a telephone connected directly to a PC running GNU/Linux and a piezo contact microphone in order to pick up the electromagnetic activity inside the machine. Philip Julian's "Low Activity Computer Solo" achieves a more direct correspondence between the conceptual aspects of the project and the machine in order to use both hardware and software as objects and instruments with their own peculiar characteristics. The traditional model of using a mouse or a trackpad as control devices, in order to "make sounds" with a computer according to precise routines and algorithms, may create - according to the author - "too much distance or a disconnection between the technology/instrument and the performer/user". In contrast with much of the current computer music, which relies on a rapid succession of sequences meant to be played at a high volume, here the sounds are interspersed with digital pauses, to be enjoyed - at last - in the entirety of a non-mediated and essential performance.